Our buddies over at The Big Lead recently ran a blog about the greatest sporting events they'd ever seen in person and it got me to thinking (always a risky venture). Over the years I've been fortunate enough to witness some pretty special moments in sports, so I thought I'd share.
I've been to several big Maryland basketball games thanks to my connections out there, so I won't list them all. Still, the 2001 Final 4 game against Duke in Minneapolis stands out. The Terps were up 17 in the first half only to lose the game due to some VERY shady officiating. We were pretty close to the bench, and at one point Gary Williams turned around to a group of NCAA Committee members and yelled "Just how fucking bad do you want Duke to win?" Priceless. Michigan State and Arizona contigents were also there, and everybody, I mean everybody, was anti-Duke.
You never knew who you were going to run into at College Park. We were always on Row 1 right behind the bench (Thanks Billy Hahn). Robert Novak always sat near us , Tony Kornheiser, and there were always a few pro athletes sitting near us as well. One night we sat down and I said hello to the guy next to me. I kept glancing at him because, damn, he looked familiar. He seemed like an uncle from my past or something. Then it hit me. I was sitting beside Johnny Unitas.
Once, at a Maryland-Duke game at College Park, I heard quite a ruckus behind me in the Maryland student section. I turned around and saw a guy in the middle of the Maryland fans with a Duke hat on. People were going nuts booing the guy and screaming obscenities at him. After a while things died down a bit so I turned back to the pregame warmups. A few minutes later I heard a roar and looked around to see that somebody had swiped the hat and was passing it up through the stands. The Duke guy was livid but he was outnumbered about 5000 to 1. At that point I thought it was over, but about 5-minutes later I heard another roar. This time I turned around and there was a Maryland fan waving the hat on the end of a long stick. And oh yeah, by the way. The hat was on fire.
Sticking with college hoops, I have to say that being behind the WV bench in Cincinnati this year for "The Return of Huggs" was pretty special. Just being that close to all the emotion was pretty overwhelming, and I was honored to be given seats so close to the action. It was an unforgettable night.
When I was a kid I was lucky that my Dad was not only a big sports fan, but also the head of purchasing at a pretty big corporation. Because Dad was in charge of buying literally everything for the company, he was constantly being bombarded with freebies from people who wanted him to buy from their businesses. Hence, all he had to do was mention a game he wanted to go to and he had the tickets post-haste (he also used to get a ton of free food and alcohol around the holidays, which was always a bonus). I'm pretty sure there are ethics laws preventing at least some of this stuff now, but maybe not. Anyway, combine Dad's occupation with the fact that I had an uncle who was pretty high up in Ohio politics and I was one pretty lucky kid where getting tickets was concerned.
Because of this I was in attendance on April 4th, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 714th home run to tie Babe Ruth. Now there's something you don't see every day. I'll never forget the electricity in Riverfront Stadium that day. Even at my age I knew I was witnessing history.
A few years earlier, on May 17th, 1970, I'd seen Hank get his 3000th hit at Crosley Field. It was the second game of a doubleheader, and later in the game he hit his 570th homer.
Speaking of Crosley Field, I was also at the last game played there on June 24th, 1970. I remember the great Juan Marichal pitching for the Giants and Johnny Bench and Lee May hit back-to-back home runs off him, enabling the Reds to go ahead and eventually win the game. Afterwards a helicopter came in, picked up home plate, and flew it over to Riverfront Coliseum to be placed there. Pretty cool night.
Another great memory of Crosley was during Game 2 of the 1972 World Series. With Tony Perez on first and Oakland leading 2-0 in the ninth inning, Joe Rudi raced to the left-field fence and made a leaping, backhanded catch of Denis Menke's smash to save a run. Earlier in the game, Rudi had a solo home run. Dad and I were in the right field stands about 5-rows up, so I had a great view of that famous catch.
We also used to go to several Cincinnati Royals games a year, as I mentioned in a previous blog. We were once at a Royals-76ers game and I REALLY wanted Wilt Chamberlain's autograph. He was by far my favorite player. Anyway, not knowing any better I decided to go down at halftime and tried to get it as the players walked off the court. At that time both teams exited at the same point, right at half-court, walking together and then going into opposite locker rooms. So, I'm standing there waiting for my hero when there he comes. Listen, I was probably 10-years old but Wilt looked 20-feet tall to me. He was walking right beside Jerry Lucas, and they were yelling at each other, saying words I'd never before heard in my young life. Then, right in front of me they stopped. They were nose-to-nose, just completely going at it. Other players came in and broke it up, but before Wilt left he looked down at me, rubbed my head, and shook my hand. I guess I should say he shook my forearm because his hand gripped mine practically all the way up to my elbow. Hell, even at that young age I realized that was WAY better than an autograph.
I've mentioned before all the Bengal games I went to as a kid, so I won't get into that again. One game stands out from when I was a little older though. Again, I can thank Dad for pulling through for the tix, but I was in attendance at the Bengals vs. Bills Monday Night Football Game back in 1975. During the Bengals' 33-24 win Ken Anderson threw for 447 yards and some dude names O.J. Simpson slashed and cut his way for 197 yards rushing. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
I also got to see a ton of big Ohio State basketball games and almost all of the Ohio State-Michigan football games through the late 60's up to the present. I vividly remember watching Lew Alcindor play against the Bucks (1968 possibly?) and just dominate. Dad never liked him because he thought he was lazy. Indeed, with John Wooden's fast break there were several times Alcindor never made it past mid-court. As a kid, I was also impressed when he untangled the net without even standing on his tip-toes.
Another great memory is a Royals game we went to against the New Orleans Jazz. The Jazz had none other than Pistol Pete Maravich on their team, and he torched the Royals for 44-points that night as I recall. I also remember that he wasn't the high scorer that night. Unheralded Royals center Connie Dierking had 45. I could be off on those numbers but know I'm close. Pete Rose sat a few seats down from us that night. Probably had some jack placed on the outcome.
And finally, here's an amazing memory that never was. Back in 1988 a friend of mine had a buddy who worked for CBS Sports. This guy got us tickets to the 1988 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago. We had passes for the dunk contest, the whole works. Well, by the time we checked into The Omni in Chicago that Saturday we were, uh, a little tanked. OK, a lot. Later on we were in a bar near the stadium and were having so much fun that we decided, in our infinite wisdom, to stay there and skip the dunk contest. This would turn out to be the contest where Dominique Wilkins and some schlup named Michael Jordan would have their legendary showdown. You know, the one where Jordan came in from the side, looking down on the rim, and nearly ripped the rim off. Oh, and later he dunked from the foul line. Personally I thought Wilkins won, but what the hell did I know? I was in a bar 3-blocks away. To put a cap on things, as we were walking into the stadium for the All-Star game the next day some guy offered us $300 for our tickets. Of course we promptly sold them. What can I say? We were idiots.
So there you have it, a few of my favorite (and one not so favorite) memories of sports. I'm sure a few more will pop into my head as we go, and if so I'll blog accordingly.
What are some of your favorite sports memories? They can be anything, from little league to the big leagues. Let me know.